After casting keycaps over a couple of months, I’ve finally finished my first bottle of resin. Now I’m trying out a different brand and realize not all epoxy resins have the same properties. I started with Unicone Art a couple of months ago and now am using Dr Crafty.

Here’s a comparison of the resin brands Unicone Art (left) and Dr Crafty (right):

resin compare

Epoxy Resin Brand Unicone Art Dr Crafty
Cure Time 18 hours – hard enough to work with, 24+ hours – full hardness 24 hours – still very pliable, 30 hours – hard enough to work with
Casting Great for casting More viscous and will not conform to certain complex molds
Clarity Clear but small trapped air bubbles will make the keycaps appear cloudy Crystal clear and fewer air bubbles
Odor I couldn’t detect anything Strong chemical smell from the hardener

If you look closely at the photo above (and ignore the different dye colors), there are a lot more tiny air bubbles in the left keycap than the right. I let all resin degas before casting, but it seems like for Unicone Art, the air bubbles have a harder time making their way out.

I prefer strongly Unicone Art for its casting property and turnaround time. However, Dr Crafty is visibly clearer.

Maybe I’ll try to cast the bottom pieces with Unicone Art and the clear top with Dr Crafty. Will report back.

star keys

These will be the final star keycaps I cast. I’m pretty satisfied. Aside from different colors, there’s not much left to explore.

lake keys

I might try to make a few lakes keycaps. I’m not loving the overall key design ’cause it leads to large air bubbles trapped everywhere.

It seems like everyone during quarantine is making keycaps.

If you’re looking to get started, there are lots of videos online. Here are my recommendations:

  1. How to Cast Artisan Keycaps with Silicone and Resin is a comprehensive guide to making your first keycaps. They also have other videos for advanced techniques.
  2. Making Custom Resin Keycaps is a recent video showcasing how to make different types of keys. I wish I had this as a reference when I first started. It would’ve saved a lot of time.
  3. Cloudy Sky Resin Key Caps is quite a bit different from the first two videos by using off-the-shelf molds. Due to the mold design, you won’t get precise fitting of the keyboard and the keycap, but this is super low investment. You only need resin and the mold. This is all the fun of keycap making with minimal work.

I use the same concept from video #2 to design my molds and actually cast with the technique described in video #1.

Here are my posts:

  1. How to Cast Embedded Keycaps – It took me a long time to figure out for embedded keycaps, you need to cast the bottom piece first (the part with the stem) and then invert it into a well of resin. I tried all sorts of unsuccessful ways to cast the top piece first. If only I had :Making Custom Resin Keycaps” for reference.
  2. Materials for Making Keycaps – Everything you need to get started with L2K casting

There are a lot of non-keycap resin artists with great videos for inspiration:

Artsy Madwoman is my favorite. She has a vibrant personality posts many videos on colorful projects

I’d been avoiding using paint in my keycaps and restricting myself to resin. I’d felt using paint was “cheating” and a slippery slope to where I’d buy tiny plastic figurines from eBay and plop them in pre-fabricated molds. All of the artistic challenges would be gone.

But it’s 2020!

So what if I’m making keycaps in easy mode. I should go easy on myself and my hobbies.

So here are some easy mode keys:

acrylic keycaps

mint star chip

cocentric

^ This one is actually all resin. I’m including it ’cause I like the colors.

pond keycap

bright stars

Even though acrylic paint makes the surface a little more textured, the colors really pop. I actually like them a lot.

More acrylic keycaps to come.

Ever since I started in this hobby, I wanted to create interesting keycaps that have a relatively flat surface. Any prominent texture would distract me from typing. I couldn’t find the industry term so I’m calling these types of keycaps “embedded keycaps”. Think Zen Pond from jellykeys versus Jade Empire from Keyforge.

After feeling confident from casting single color keys, I experimented with making more advanced molds to make embedded keycaps. I thought about literally embedding objects (which you can do to create glitter or gold foil keycaps), but I wasn’t sure how to embed more intricate objects and have them not float and move during the curing process. I decided to go with advanced molds for now and I’ll make a separate post on mold design.

It took a lot of iterations of mold design and casting technique before I created anything resembling an embedded key. I was surprised by the difficulty but it was probably my lack of intuition for physical crafts. Below is my current process.

Three Day Process

This is a three day process to create embedded keycaps using three different mold pieces. While I used molds with simple geometric shapes, the same process can be applied to more detailed molds. The process takes many days because I wait approximately 24 hours for resin to cure between the steps.

purple keycap

green stars

First Day – Cast the Details

I cast the details of a two-part mold (such as the hemisphere or stars) as well as the stem mount. I wiggle the stem to release any air bubbles trapped in the mount. Casting the stem on the first day (instead of the second day) avoids creating air traps.

first cure

Second Day – Cast the Bottom

The second day is for casting the bottom of the keycap that surrounds the switch’s upper housing. I fill the mold with colored resin and press the two halves together. I need to carefully clean out the escape holes to help prevent air holes forming along the bottom ridge of the keycap.

second cure

bottom pieces

Third Day – Final Cast

The third day is for combining the bottom pieces with a clear top for the final cast. I use molds with the desired surface profile in this step. I spray the molds with mold release, fill them with clear resin, and then inlay the bottoms from the previous day. The mold release makes the keycaps shiny.

mold with resin

third cure

after third cure

That’s it! That’s my process. I’m sure I’ll change it as I learn more. If you’re just getting started, check out intro tutorials at http://artisanalliance.mx/ and my list of materials.